What can you do if a bad worker asks for a reference?
If you’ve got nothing good to say, should you say nothing at all?
What do you do if you’re asked for a reference for an employee that you can’t honestly recommend?
While many might breathe a sigh of relief that a not so brilliant employee is leaving it’s possible that they may want a reference from you to make that jump. Many people mistakenly think it’s illegal to give a ‘bad’ reference. But, this isn’t entirely true, a reference only needs to be accurate and truthful under UK law.
This leaves you with the conundrum – what do I do if a bad employee asks me for a reference?
Unless it is already confirmed in writing or for certain financial services jobs, an employer does not legally have to give a reference.
It may be worth taking the time to talk to your former or current employee and explain that they would be better off choosing someone else who is more familiar with their work to write the reference for them. This will get you off the hook, but will also give them the chance to ask another person who will give them a better chance at securing a new job.
Tell them it will be negative
If they persist, now is the time to be more direct. Let them know they will not receive a positive reference from you if they ask you to write one.
Stick to the facts
If you’re still being pushed to provide a reference, make sure you stick to objective facts. For example, when the employee worked for you, job title and a description of their role.
When writing this be aware that a former employee can take you to an employment tribunal, or sue for ‘negligent misstatement’ if they feel any discrimination took place or the information given was misleading.
Make sure to avoid the issue in future
To avoid this issue again in future, make sure you’re doing everything you can to make sure your team knows where you stand on their work.
As a manager making sure you’re giving effective and constructive feedback is very important. Those who aren’t excelling at work should have a good understanding of what kind of reference you’re likely to give. Meaning, hopefully, they’ll avoid asking you!
Some companies have a policy of giving no official references to any employees, good or bad. That won’t necessarily prevent you from giving a personal reference.